Is the Risk Worth the Reward?

Is the Risk Worth the Reward?

We live in a world with constant distractions. The focus of our attention is constantly being sought by so many different people and companies that most issues, even major ones, within our country come and go from the headlines within a matter of weeks if not days and sometimes even hours. Adding to this is the chaos of our individual lives as we attempt to balance all that life has to offer. 

All of that being said, an issue that has stayed at or near the forefront of our national media during the past year is that of school safety and, in particular, school shootings. With a new disaster, and plenty of near misses as well, occurring on an all-to-regular basis, school safety has secured its place of importance at the top of the educational hierarchy and, in many instances, at the top of the national hierarchy of debates as well. 

As an educator, my biggest fear was an incident to occur involving an active shooter in my building. This fear didn’t resonate with me until around seven years into my teaching career when our school resource officers shared with us a video of the tragedy that occurred at Columbine High School. While the average faculty meeting is dull and boring, you could literally hear a pin drop during this session. 

From this inservice session, I took away a valuable tool from our school resource officers in terms of school safety: hide, fight, or flight. In the past, I (like most educators that I have spoken with) was taught to have my kids hide, presumably under their desks. After watching the Columbine video, however, it quickly became apparent that simply hiding under a desk was not the best option available and, in fact, provided little value in terms of safety in an active shooter situation. Instead, the first priority is to hide in such a way that puts you in position to carry out the alternate two options if deemed necessary and appropriate. As a high school educator, this meant equipping myself and my kids with anything that could be deemed as a weapon: pens, pencils, scissors, shoes, computer monitors, you name it, but everyone was to have something in their hands that they could use to fight if necessary. 

The final option, flight, was a best case scenario in which the threat was located away from our position and we had the opportunity, as a group, to flee from campus to a safe place. 

I’m not a classroom rules and syllabus on day one guy AT ALL, but during the first week of each semester, we reviewed hide, fight, or flight in all of my classes. We went around campus to different locations, such as the cafeteria, the gymnasium, the auditorium, etc. to evaluate different situations and present the “what if it happened while you were right here” scenario. Obviously, in a real-world situation, the scene will be chaotic and it is unpredictable as to how people will react in pressure situations, but I am a firm believer that establishing a plan and carrying out a situation in your mind in advance will provide at least a slight level of preparation for the real thing. 

I carry hide, fight, or flight with me everywhere I go now, to the point that it’s pretty much an afterthought. When I’m speaking in an auditorium or a gymnasium, I’ve already laid out an escape plan in my mind. When I walk in the grocery store or my favorite Mexican restaurant, I’ve already evaluated the options available. As sad as it is to say, it’s become second nature for me in the world that we live in today. 

All of these thoughts are coming from an educator’s and, in public, a citizen’s perspective. But what really hits me in the heart, and the purpose of this post, isn’t about my perspective as an educator or a citizen towards school safety, but instead, as a parent. 

Brooks just finished 2nd grade. He absolutely LOVES school with a passion and we are blessed that he attends a wonderful school full of amazing educators. But as notifications pop up on my phone on an all-too-frequent basis with yet another school shooting and then another, I have found myself asking the question: Is the risk worth the reward?

As a parent, your children are your most prized possession that you will ever have. It’s indescribable how, as a parent, your priorities completely change when a child enters your life. It’s no longer about you, but instead about caring for, providing for, and protecting your kids. 

That being said, I have found myself debating whether or not to leave Brooks in school or to homeschool him instead based exclusively on the increasing number of school shootings that are taking place in our country.

Please understand that I am 100% confident in the safety procedures in place at his current school, otherwise he would not be there. This is not in any way directed at his school, but simply my honest thoughts and feelings as a father based on the status of our current society. But as a parent, and of an only child at that, I’ve got one chance to do this thing right. And let’s be honest here: when one of these idiots decides they are going to inflict pain through one of these heinous acts, they will find a way to make it happen. 

I cannot begin to fathom the emotions that have run through the parents of those involved in school tragedies. It’s the call or text or notification that every parent dreads at their core, especially in the world we live in today. 

And so, I ask you again: Is the risk worth the reward? I’m struggling to answer that question, and I assume that many other parents are as well. 

Rebel With A Cause: 13 Ways to Impact School Climate WITHOUT Your Administrator's Approval

Rebel With A Cause: 13 Ways to Impact School Climate WITHOUT Your Administrator's Approval

Written by PC & Tara Campbell

“How do I get my administrators to buy in?” 

We hear this question from both students and educators after almost every presentation that we deliver.

On one hand, this is saddening, because it means that all across the country, we have administrators in schools that are not providing an engaging, relevant school experience for their school communities. Students and educators alike often express that their administration “would never let us do things like you showed us from your school.” 

On the other hand, it provides a reason for hope. Too often, administrators, and all of us for that matter, adhere to the status quo for a number of different reasons. Regardless of that, there is a prime opportunity to completely revolutionize how we do school culture and climate in buildings across the country. 

In the meantime, however, it’s important to understand that school culture and climate do not have to be huge, game-changing projects that provide a complete facelift for your school. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Here are 13 ideas that can impact your school’s culture and climate that you don’t have to pay for and, more importantly in this situation, you don’t even have to ask for permission!

1. A Smile and a Wave

Every time you pass someone on your school’s campus, you are constructing your school’s climate…whether you are building it up or tearing it down, however, is up to you. Be that person that smiles and waves and makes eye contact with everyone that you encounter, not just your friends or people that you like. 

Our family spent the recent holiday season in New York City. One of the things that we observed during our time there was that regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, language, etc., smiles are not only universally understood, they are universally reciprocated. We all need to smile more. 

Make an effort to smile and wave at everyone that you pass on your school’s campus. If you want to take this to the next level, start learning the names of people that you don’t know yet and then call them by their name when you see them. A great way to do this is to use a yearbook to flip through and match names with faces. 

2. High Fives

Who doesn’t like a high five, right? I always love to say that you can’t help but smile when you give someone a high five. It’s just fun!

So, what if one day a week you set up at an entrance on your school’s campus and delivered high fives and fist bumps to people as they entered the building? Or what if you set up at an exit in the afternoon and did the same thing? To take this to the next level, get a group of students and/or educators to hit ALL of the entrances or exits, add bubbles and music, and turn it into an event…some schools call every Friday “High Five Friday” and deliver high fives with oversized foam hands as people enter or exit the building. 

High fives aren’t just limited to the beginning or end of the school day either…give them out freely! Between classes in the halls, at lunch in the cafeteria or commons area, or even during class when someone does something “high five worthy,” you can never give too many high fives!

3. Listen

As simple as this sounds, we are all often too guilty of being so caught up in our own lives that we lose sight of some of the struggles being endured by those around us. One of the most powerful things that we can do to help people is to simply listen. So often, people believe that they are isolated on an island and that they don’t have anyone that they can turn to with the issues they are facing in their lives. Be the exception to this rule. 

Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that you have to understand or that you have to come up with a solution. In fact, it’s ok if you don’t understand or don’t have a solution. So often, people just want to be heard and have the opportunity to express themselves. Who knows, you might even make a new friend in the process!

So, the next time you see a student or a colleague whose shoulders seem burdened in some way, offer an ear to listen and a gesture of encouragement. Let them know that they are not alone. Education is not meant to be lonely a profession and schools should never be lonely places.

4. Be Nice

This one is simple, yet often overlooked. There are so many ways that you can make an impact on your campus simply by being nice to others. Hold a door open. Help someone pick up something that they dropped. Volunteer to show a new teacher or student around campus. The possibilities are endless, but the impact has a snowball effect. 

5. Be Intentional

Unfortunately, there are “ghosts” on every campus across the country. Sometimes, it can be easy to overlook these people and not even notice that they are present. Be intentional in your observations every day at school and be on the lookout for people that need a friend. Maybe they sit by themselves at lunch, maybe they walk between classes by themselves, or maybe they wait before or after school all alone. 

Be that person that introduces yourself, learns their name, and then makes a daily effort to make them feel seen and appreciated. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily routines of our life, so you have to be intentional in seeking out people that are not “plugged in” on your school’s campus. And remember, “ghosts” can be adults on your campus too!

6. Sidewalk Chalk

This one can be a little risky if you aren’t going to ask permission, but if you’re a little rebellious, we say go for it! At the entrances on your campus, draw encouraging messages and pictures for students and staffulty to see as they walk in. Another option is to draw personal messages in parking spaces for students or educators. And don’t forget about your bus drivers! A well placed message in your bus lane can go a long way to making them feel special and appreciated as well! 

If you feel you might catch backlash from your administrator for not requesting permission, then be proactive and use that sidewalk chalk to make them feel appreciated in the process - use it on their parking space and write a message of gratitude on the sidewalk they use to enter the building. Sometimes administrators say “no” because they themselves are walking around with an empty cup. Make them feel the difference and they might be more receptive to your ideas moving forward.

7. Give Back

Almost every school has a food pantry or a clothes closet that they use to provide for children that are less fortunate. If you have the means to contribute food and/or clothes to either one of these resources, do it! Even if you don’t have the means to contribute actual resources, your time can be just as valuable as well. Volunteer to help sort clothes or to pack bags of food that get sent home each week. Along these same lines, if you know of a student or classmate that is in need of specific supplies such as paper, pencils, notebooks, etc., find a way to make it happen for them. The big key here is to make sure that it is NOT a public presentation…be as discreet about your delivery as possible. If your school does not have a food pantry or a clothes closet, seriously consider getting one started. 

8. Be Involved

One of the biggest and most impactful ways that students and educators can contribute to the climate of the school is by being involved. By this, I mean to attend as many events that take place on your campus as possible…athletics, plays, concerts, etc., if it’s going down, make every effort to be there. Not only does it mean the world to the people that are involved in the event itself, but it also keeps you in tune with what is happening on campus. To take this a step further, make an effort to bring someone different with you to every event that you attend!

9. Happy Birthday!

Everyone should feel special on their birthday! There are numerous ways you can celebrate birthdays at school, but first you need to know when the birthdays occur. For students, a list can be run from the majority of student information management systems used for scheduling, attendance, and grade books. For teachers, most schools have some sort of directory of teacher contact information for administration to use if needed. If birthdays are not a bit of information included in that directory, simply pass out an interest survey for teachers at the beginning of each school year and obtain that information for all staffulty members. 

10. Class Visits with Students with Special Needs

There is no better pick-me-up, smile, or joy than spending time with the students with special needs in your building. It will be good for you, good for them, good for your students, and good for their teachers and aides. Pre-schedule a day and time with their teacher in which your students could come to their class and help with assignments or just hang out and spend time together. Repeat this once a month. It won’t take long before you see the culture shift in your students, in your relationship with that teacher, and within your own heart.

11. Classroom/Club Citizenship

If you sponsor an extracurricular group, allow that group to choose a portion of the school campus (inside or outside) to adopt. Much like the “Adopt a Highway” movement, your group could take responsibility for the cleanliness and the presentation of their area of campus. If you don’t sponsor an extracurricular, allow each of your classes to choose a different part of campus to adopt.

12. Email Shoutouts

Most schools have an “All Staff” email list for mass communications with all staffulty in the building. Utilize that to your advantage and spread some love! If a colleague is doing a really cool project in their classes, or the custodian helped clean up after an event you sponsored after school, or the person in charge of getting classes covered for absent teachers had a particularly long list of teachers who were out, give those people a public shoutout by means of an email to the entire staffulty. You will see that after doing this a couple of times, others will jump on that bandwagon as well. Students, you can use the use the power of social media to spread the love for your teachers and classmates as well!

13. Positive Notes

This can be done in a couple of different ways. The most popular version that we have seen is to write positive, encouraging messages on post-it notes and then to attach them to all of the lockers in the building. Your messages could say things like, “You look great today!” Or, “You make our school a better place.” An alternative to this method would be to attach the post-it notes to desks in each classroom or, for individual teachers doing this in their classroom, use a dry erase marker to write a personal note to each individual student on their desk. Think about the look on your students’ faces when they walk in and see that!

This list of 13 ideas barely just skims the surface of the difference you can begin to make in your school free of charge and without permission. And once you get this snowball of love and kindness rolling downhill, who knows? Your administrator might jump on board for bolder ideas moving forward. Regardless of that aspect, however, you don’t need their permission to make a difference.

Go be legendary.

"It Made Me Feel Excited and Appreciated"

"It Made Me Feel Excited and Appreciated"

My son, Brooks, starts 2nd grade on Monday. To say that he is excited would be an understatement…this past week for registration night when he would get to meet his teacher for the upcoming school year, he was up and dressed to the nines hours before we even needed to leave the house. He simply could not wait to step foot in his school once again, as evidenced by the spring in his step as we approached the building that night. 

Brooks loves his school. He loves his principal. He loves the staff members. He loves his classmates. And, most importantly to this dad, he loves to learn. 

As we proceeded through the stations that night, I observed several other families doing the same thing. Regardless of their grade, height, weight, race, or academic ability, they all shared a few things in common: Every single one of them had an eager smile on their face. Every single one of them had that extra spring in their step. And every single one of them were genuinely happy and excited to be there. 

My son has attended this school for one full year. Despite this brevity, each and every single adult at each and every single station called my son by name and asked a question about his summer trip to Disney World or how his dog was doing. Despite the fact that my son has had ONE teacher and ONE principal in his time there, every single adult, ranging from the principal to teachers to educational assistants, called him by his name and knew something about his life beyond the walls of that building. For a guy that travels the country and speaks about creating a positive culture and climate, that means the world to me. My son’s school gets it,  and that is a direct reflection of the leadership and the quality of people that work there. 

How are students and their adult supporters treated at your school’s registration nights? Is it similar to our aforementioned experience? Or is it more formality than anticipation, with greater emphasis placed on providing direction to the next station instead of seizing the opportunity to connect and foster relationships? Unfortunately, I have witnessed the latter description far too many times. 

As I reflect on my time as a high school educator, one of the things I spend a great deal of time thinking about is this: Where do we lose the magic along the way? My son loves school, with a passion, as do most children his age. But by the time these kids get to high school, most of them will have developed a deep disdain towards education. 

I am not certain of where we go wrong, but I am certain of this: As educators, we are failing somewhere between the ages of 8 to 14. 

There are high school, and some middle school, students that absolutely despise the thought of stepping foot in their school. Don’t believe me? Check out their posts on social media. The proof is right there on an almost daily basis. Not connected with your kids through social media? Then you’re missing out on arguably the greatest tool available to get to know your kids and to have your finger on the pulse of the day-to-day climate of your building. 

Some will argue that the more that kids are involved in extracurricular activities, the more they will enjoy school. The truth is, even kids that are involved are ecstatic on days that school is canceled for snow or some other type of event. So where does this start? And, more importantly, how do we fix it?

I don’t claim to have the million dollar answer, but my most educated guess is this: As I think back to my time as an elementary student and as I listen to the details of Brooks’ activities each day, elementary students are actively engaged in their learning. They are up and moving from center to center; writing, coloring, and drawing; cutting and pasting; exploring, interacting, and playing. 

Most high school classrooms are quite the opposite: Sit in your uncomfortable chair for 50 minutes or sometimes an hour and a half and listen to me to talk to you about something that, in all honesty, you could care less about. While you’re trying to stay awake, take notes from my lecture and/or the notes I put up here on the overhead projector. Don’t talk, don’t text, don’t fall asleep…and oh yeah, you get to do this multiple times throughout the day in your other classes as well. 

Maybe it’s not the end all, be all answer, but how different would our middle and high schools be if our pedagogy included more interactive activities as opposed to the stereotypical lectures? One of my favorite books relating to this topic is Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess. In it, Dave details the importance of turning your lessons into an experience for your students that not only will they remember, but will also leave them wanting more. 

As a father, I can only hope that more and more educators will take note and make an effort to create those experiences for Brooks throughout his educational journey. 

When I asked Brooks how it made him feel when all of those adults spoke to him and asked him about his summer, his response was, “It made me feel excited and appreciated.”

And thus, maybe the answer is elementary after all. 

The Legends Never Make It

The Legends Never Make It

Michael Jordan is the GOAT. 

In all my years of watching sports, I have never seen another individual with the competitive drive of MJ. There were times when he literally willed his team to not only wins, but championships. Not only did he transcend his competition, he took the game of basketball to another level on a global scale. 

MJ is a legend. 

As we find ourselves in the midst of graduation season, you will undoubtedly see the following scenario play out on social media: Graduates will post selfies and add the captions, “We did it!” or “We made it!”

The truth, however, is this: The legends never make it. 

Tom Brady. Wayne Gretzky. Derek Jeter. The Beatles. AC/DC. Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. 

We all have our own definition of what a legend is and who represents the aforementioned title. For my 7-year-old son, Justin Bieber is a legend. Regardless of your opinion of who qualifies and who doesn’t, legends all have one thing in common: they never said “I made it” or “I did it.”

The world is full of average people. People that are satisfied with maintaining the status quo, that are satisfied with being just good enough, that are satisfied with doing the least amount of work possible to simply get by. “Work smarter, not harder,” they say. There are people that claim to be “experts” in their field, yet their entire life, in both words and actions, is construed of things they see and hear from others. 

I have been fortunate to spend time with a number of extremely talented people that are unbelievable at what they do. Regardless of if they work in athletics, education, the music industry, or anything in between, they all share a common trait: They are never content. 

You see kids, as soon as you become content, it’s game over. Satisfaction is the number one ingredient for regression. And just like that, the game of life will pass you by. 

My college baseball coach at MTSU, Steve Peterson, won more championship rings during his coaching career than he had fingers to wear them on. In baseball, if you won a championship in the spring, you would receive your rings that fall, usually at a home football game. One of my favorite observations about Coach Pete was that once he would receive a new ring in the fall, he would wear it until Christmas Break, at which time he would put it in his trophy display case. When I asked him why he did this, he simply said, “Last season is over. It’s time to go to work on winning another one now.”  

The legends never make it. 

I honestly believe that none of us desire to be average. Every time I pose the question to an audience, nearly every hand in the room goes up to indicate their desire to be legendary. Why, then, is there such a huge gap between the average and the legendary? In my opinion, it’s due to contentment. 

Legends have a mentality of “what’s next?” Legends don’t have a finish line. Legends create solutions instead of excuses. Legends make the time that average people “don’t have.” Legends spend the majority of their time looking out the windshield towards the next destination, not in the rearview reflecting on the past. 

Class of 2017, as you embark upon your journey towards greatness, ask yourself: Who is a legend in your mind? What did they do to get to that level? More importantly, what do they do to STAY at that level? Did they ever mention that they were satisfied with their accomplishments? Highly doubtful…

Soak in every moment of your graduation day. The look of pride on your family’s face when they see you enter the room in your cap and gown. The nervous excitement you feel when your name is called and you shake your principal’s hand. The thunderous sound of the standing ovation you and your classmates have earned by reaching this point. But through it all, remember one thing:

The legends never make it. 

Chase your dreams, kids!!!

One More Shot of Fireball

One More Shot of Fireball

Death is my kryptonite. 

There is something about the finality of death that I have trouble wrapping my mind around. I don’t do visitations or funerals except in extreme circumstances and even then, I limit the things I view. My heart doesn’t want to remember a loved one in that state; instead, I choose to remember them through my favorite personal experiences that we shared together. 

During the course of the past three school years, our community has been forced to deal with the passings of four of our students through three separate incidents. To say that life is a precious thing would be an understatement; to say that these youth left us far too soon would not justify the lasting impact they have made on this world. 

As educators, we take a myriad of educational courses to prepare us for pedagogy, classroom management, and lesson planning. As educational leaders, we take courses that “prepare” us to deal with the daily ebbs and flows of what it means to serve in the community of education. But the cold, harsh truth of the matter is that no amount of schooling can or ever will prepare us for the news that one of our very own has been taken from us. 

I vividly recall receiving the news from each of the three incidents. I remember feeling my heart sink to the depths of my soul. I remember the tears that filled my eyes each time. And I remember the hollowing sense of empathy I felt for each of their parents that had to receive that dreadful news. 

I love my kids with all of my heart. For whatever reason, I have a special place in my heart for my “at-risk” kids. In all honesty, I’m not even sure where this adoration started. I was never labeled “at-risk,” nor can I relate to many of the hardships that these kids have to endure and survive. But somewhere along the way, I developed a desire to help these kids realize that there is hope for a better tomorrow. 

During the past four years, I befriended a pair of brothers and set out to serve as a beacon for them in their educational journey. These two young men were dealt a tough hand to play, to say the least. In reality, not only were they beaten up by life’s cards, they were weathered by the cards of the educational system as well. 

The oldest of the brothers is a sports fanatic, which is where our relationship began. He was and still is extremely passionate about this sports teams, and, specifically, about his Portland Panthers. He attends any and all Portland High School athletic events that he possibly can. He can rattle off statistics and play-calls that would impress even the most seasoned sports enthusiast. 

The younger brother wasn’t into sports or Portland High School nearly as much. Instead, he was a gamer and an absolute wizard with apps on his cell phone. Two years younger than his older brother, I’ll never forget the first time his older sibling brought him into my room one day after school. I addressed him simply by his nickname: Fireball. 

To say that “fireball” is the perfect moniker for this young man would be putting it mildly. He would hit my door like a tornado talking a thousand miles an hour and walk right back out doing just the same. He only knew one gear, and that was overdrive. I never once saw him without a smile on his face or heard a single complaint leave his mouth despite the hardships he was forced to endure. In reflecting, Fireball probably didn’t view them as hardships, but instead as his simple reality. That statement alone shatters my heart to its core. 

Fireball was taken from the harsh reality of life last week.

It cracks me up how people are quick to make posts on social media to lament his life. Where were you when he needed a ride to or from school on a cold or rainy day instead of riding his bike, because that was his only alternative? Where were you when he needed his clothes washed? Where were you when he needed food to eat? Where were you when the young man just wanted to be heard, to be listened to, to be cared for, to have a voice? WHERE WERE YOU??? But you can damn sure make a post on social media now, because that might make you look good in the eyes of others or at least make you feel good as a person. 

There is no glory in the forgotten. 

We all strive for the spotlight. It’s human nature. As such, we do things that will put us in the best possible position to attain that spotlight. As educators, we all want to teach the honor kids, to coach the winning sports teams, and to sponsor the award-winning clubs and extracurriculars because there is “fulfillment” that is associated with it. But the truth is, nobody cares about your test scores, your athletic accomplishments, or your club’s trivial awards. Nobody cares. The sooner you can realize and accept this reality, the better off your life will be and the more you will be able to help others. 

The incredible part about being an educator is that each and every single day, we have the opportunity to make an immeasurable impact on tomorrow. How are you making an impact? How many lost souls are currently in your building, just waiting, begging, for an adult to see them, to hear them, to simply acknowledge them? 

I will always wonder if I could have done more. I will always wonder if I could have said more. I will always wonder if he knew how much I cared, how much time I spent thinking about him, and how much I loved him and wanted him to have the chance at a better tomorrow. I will always wish that my door would fly open one more time, with him busting through like a bat out of hell, talking nonstop until the second he left. 

My heart will always yearn…for one more shot of Fireball. 

I love you little buddy. 

The Homestretch

The Homestretch

I love competition. I also love watching phenomenal athletes compete against one another. One of my favorite competitions to watch first-hand is horse racing. I’m not a huge fan of watching it on TV, but given the opportunity, a visit to the horse track is high on my list of options. 

My bride and I love to visit Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, TX. Not only is it simply a gorgeous venue, it is big enough to provide the “feel” of a big-time horse track while at the same time being small enough to provide a sense of intimacy between the crowd, the horses, and their jockeys. In addition, the venue plays host to a number of Texas country music artists, which only serves as an added perk for this Red Dirt music lover. 

We are not professional gamblers by any stretch of the imagination, nor are we horse racing experts, so our annual patronage to the horse track is a crapshoot at best. We enter the track with a set budget—usually in the ballpark of $100 to wager on the horses in the races that day. If we win money, great…and if we lose, it was simply money we set aside in our entertainment budget for that month. 

Watching horses race is majestic in its own right; those animals are crafted machines of power, speed, and grace. If there is anything more poignant than watching a horse run at full stride, I am not privy to know. When you throw in a $10 wager on a horse to win the race, it only adds to the nervous excitement and anticipation that spreads throughout the crowd. 

As the group of horses comes out of turn 4 and enters the homestretch, it becomes an all-out sprint to the finish. The roar of the crowd grows in intensity as they cheer for their horse to have what it takes to cross the finish line ahead of its peers. The jockeys can be seen enticing their horse to give every last ounce of energy they have left. And one can almost sense that the horses themselves are aware of the spotlight that rests just beyond the finish line for one of them. 

As students and educators alike return to school following spring break and enter the homestretch towards the end of the school year, ask yourself: “Are you in an all-out sprint to the finish line?” Let’s be honest, the school year is a grind for all of its stakeholders. By the time we reach April and May, it’s easy to adopt a survival mindset and simply cruise towards the finish line. In order to be a game-changer, however, we must be able to shift into high gear and finish the school year as strong as we began. Just like the analogy made in athletics, day 180 of the school year is just as important as day 1. As one of my favorite educational gurus, Todd Whitaker, says, “The best way to make sure students do not act like the school year is over is to make sure teachers do not act like the school year is over.”

So, as the educational world comes out of turn 4, approach the homestretch of the school year with a relentless passion. Is it easy? No, but nothing in life worth accomplishing is ever easy, let alone an accomplishment as prestigious and valuable as that of being an educator. 

I often share with my kids the thunderous sound that is associated with the standing ovation their class will receive during their graduation ceremony and how there are very few moments in life when they will experience such a sense of pride and accomplishment. Standing ovations are sacred; people don’t simply stand in unison to applaud a group or individual without just cause. For many of my students, this will be the first time that they have ever been on the receiving end of a standing ovation, and I want that experience for them more than almost anything in this world. 

Educators, love and believe in your students enough to continue to create powerful learning moments for your students as you entice them to give every last ounce of effort they have left. Students, as eager as you are for graduation and/or summer break, it’s vital to realize that the legends don’t have a finish line. Legends live life in an all-out sprint towards the winner’s circle.

You Are More Than A Test Score

You Are More Than A Test Score

"Why are people upset about test scores? There are way more important things in the world!"

Those words were stated by my 7-year-old son, Brooks, when he overheard a conversation between my bride, a 14-year educator, and me discussing the less than stellar results of the “latest and greatest” form of standardized testing our state has to offer.

During an interview for an assistant principal position many years ago, the principal told me, “All of your fun ideas relating to culture and climate are great, but at the end of the day every student has a number attached to them.” A few days later, I politely declined this job offer.

Reflecting upon these moments in time, I came to this conclusion: If a 7-year-old 1st grader gets it, why are so many adults struggling to grasp this concept as well?

As a society, America has a habit of narrowing our scope of focus into specific, one-track choices. Case in point: From a very early age, we are asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In our early youth, this is a fascinating question--because at this point in our lives, our imagination is still permitted to run as wild as the mustangs, lending itself to such musings as Disney illustrators, firefighters, or musicians. All of these answers are perfectly acceptable at the time because, after all, we’re “just a kid.”

Ask almost any high school student, however, what question they dread the most about family gatherings, and the answer will almost exclusively be the same: Where are you going to school and what are you going to do with your life? Don’t take my word for it…ask your kids!

Somewhere between our elementary and high school years, we are expected to have sharpened our focus on this great thing called life to the point that we know exactly where we want to go and what we want to do. Not only do we feel obliged to have an answer, but also that answer must be deemed as “acceptable” by the adults in the room. As such, the majority of our students are pressured, by their very own family members, into careers that they truthfully are not interested in pursuing in an effort to be accepted and pleasing to their mentors.

This phenomenon lends itself to our nation’s current fixation on test scores, grade point averages, and the caliber and quantity of college acceptance letters our youth have attained.

To that point, I say this: Do you know how many times I have been asked what I scored on my ACT, what my high school or college GPA was, how many honors or AP courses I took, or even where I went to school when interviewing for a job? Zero. None. Nada. Not once.

Today’s high school students are under scrutinizing pressure that most adults and even their own families cannot even fathom in an effort to please people who are pressuring them into a career field that many don’t even want to pursue.

And if you really want to talk about pressure, riddle me this: What other profession in the world has their job security tied to the test results of youth ranging in age from 8 to 18 years old? Educators often feel the weight of the world on their shoulders as they prepare students, oftentimes with little or no support system in place at home, to take a test about a subject area that they may or may not be interested in learning about that the educators are not even privy to see!

What do we do with new educators when they come to our building? We give them the “standard” level classes, of course. Good luck with those test scores…as we set them up for failure before they have even started.

Have you ever felt pressure from taking or giving a test? Have you worried about what the results of the test would be? Have you ever watched a classmate, student, or peer stress over a test? Have you ever felt failure from the results of a test? Has a test stolen the joy you once had for this great profession?

Enough is enough. A test score does not define you, albeit as a student or an educator. Do they play a role in our society? Yes. Do they dictate the level of success you will have in your life? No. That’s where things like work ethic, character, and philanthropy come into play. You see, my friends, quality people beat test scores Every. Single. Time.

Have you ever hired a contractor and asked for references concerning their ELA test scores? Or required them to meet a minimum ACT benchmark? Or, did you do research to learn about the quality of their work, their trustworthiness, and their ability to complete a job in a timely and reliable manner?

A recent report released by none other than Harvard University further supports this argument. In the report, titled “Turning the Tide,” recommendations are made to place a greater emphasis on the quality of the applicant as a person, taking into account such factors as their meaningful contributions to the common good, their ethical engagement and contributions to various groups of race, gender, and social class, and their level of gratitude and sense of responsibility for the future.    

If it’s good enough for Harvard, maybe it’s time that the rest of us take notice…

My son is not, and will not ever be, a number.

As an educator, my students become my kids, and under no circumstance will they ever be treated as a number--because each and every single one of them, regardless of their background, ability level, or their dreams and aspirations, deserves the opportunity to dream as wildly and daringly as their hearts desire. I see my kids as entrepreneurs, contractors, educators, and the like, not as basic, proficient, or advanced, and I will never compromise on that belief.

And so, if there are youth present at your next family gathering, I beg you not to ask what they want to be when they grow up, how school is going, or how they scored on their ACT/SAT. Instead, ask them how they’ve helped someone recently, how are they giving back to their community, and, if you dare, ask them about their legacy and their wildest dreams. After all, there are way more important things in the world!